Lake Kaweah, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Central Valley -

Also known as:  Kaweah Lake, Kaweah Reservoir

Lake Kaweah, located about halfway between the City of Visalia and Sequoia National Park in California’s Central Valley region, is an engineering marvel and an enigma to many casual observers. The reservoir, created behind Terminus Dam on the Kaweah River, covers 1,945 acres of water when full. However, the lake is seldom full; the size allows for water storage in the event of floods which might take place once in 75 years. The typical situation is to have around 1,000 surface acres between the time of the spring thaw in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and mid-July when incoming water slows to a trickle. Later in summer, the water levels drop dramatically as water is drawn down for irrigation and supply needs. So, the unaware observer may only see a ‘full’ lake once in awhile, and a nearly dry lakebed at other times.

During early summer, Lake Kaweah is a popular spot for boating and fishing. A marina concession offers docking slips by the season or annually. A variety of boats can be rented here, including pontoons, fishing boats and water bikes. So popular are pontoon rentals that reservations are required. The marina also sells bait and tackle, snacks, convenience foods, ice and gas. Smaller houseboats, canoes and kayaks enjoy the long, narrow lake with its many coves and branches along the 22-mile shoreline. Jet skis and water skiers often enjoy the long reach of the lake when it is at its peak, and water sports fans engage in sailing, wakeboarding, wind surfing, tubing and flyboarding. Swimming is allowed, but there are no designated swim areas, and swimming is prohibited in some designated areas. When water levels are low, boaters should stay in deep water and watch for exposed rocks.

Kaweah Lake is a prime bass fishing destination. Once overrun with white bass, a project of California Fish and Wildlife exterminated the white bass and replanted largemouth bass which have made a remarkable recovery. Special limits are placed on the bass taken from Kaweah Lake except during tournaments which receive exemptions. The lake also holds a healthy supply of channel catfish, crappies and bluegills. Early in the spring, 10-12-inch rainbow trout are stocked, drawing trout fishermen like a magnet to the still-cool waters. A California fishing license is required, and special regulations for both fishing and boating should always be followed.

One campground at Lake Kaweah offers temporary lakeside living for up to 80 campers. Operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the non-electric sites include four spaces specifically designated for equestrian camping. During times of high water, some campsites are inaccessible except by boat, and reservations for space are limited. The campground has picnic tables, grills, showers and flush toilets. An RV dump station and drinking water are available. Fishing docks are supplied, and the great views are free. A visitor center-ranger station is located near the campground, surrounded by interpretive trails and plenty of trails for hiking. Other picnic areas are located at the day-use areas at Kaweah Recreation Area, Slick Rock Recreation Area and Lemon Hill Recreation Area. All three have boat ramps. Cobble Knoll Day-Use Area also has multi-purpose trails for hiking and cycling. A small fee is charged for access to the day use areas, or a seasonal pass may be purchased to cover all Corps locations. Campsites have an additional charge.

Lake Kaweah is the perfect accompaniment to a visit to Sequoia National Park. Entrance to the ‘park of the big trees’ is only about ten miles up the road near the town of Three Rivers. Many vacationers like to camp at Kaweah Lake and tour various sections of Sequoia National Park during the day. Those not particularly fond of nights without electric amenities can usually secure lodgings in one of several motels and resorts along the road to the park. Lemon Cove to the west of Lake Kaweah and Three Rivers to the east both have bed & breakfast lodgings available, while Three Rivers is a full-service resort village with plenty of restaurants, major hotels, guest lodges and vacation cabins. Whitewater rafting is available on the Kaweah River, and the Three Rivers area hosts a variety of art exhibitions, local craft shops and one-of-a-kind shopping opportunities.

Kaweah Lake is far more than a fine spot to enjoy the water on a hot summer’s day. The lake and the dam that formed it provide several valuable services to residents downstream. Although originally built in 1962 for flood control, irrigation and water supply were quickly utilized by several communities, including Visalia. The reservoir provides water to many citrus groves in the Central Valley. In 1992, the dam was retrofitted for hydroelectric energy. And, because the High Sierra snows that feed the Kaweah River are unpredictable, it was soon realized that more flood capacity would likely be needed in the near future. In 2004, the storage capacity was enlarged to handle what would be expected in a record 75-year flood. A new kind of water escape system called a fusegate was installed as a cost-saving measure.

By storing spring snow melt and flood water, the Terminus Dam has saved hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to those living downstream. The ecological tradeoff has been that this dam and three others along the waterway have resulted in the loss of the historic Tulare Lake wetlands. And, several years of record drought and little snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have provided a dwindling amount of water to the Kaweah River. So, currently (2014), the lake remains very low and water levels are minimal-about 80 feet below the ultimate high-water elevation. But the bass are still there, and the campgrounds are high and dry. Lake Kaweah is open for business, and it’s a great place to stop on the way to Sequoia National Park.

*Statistics shown are for ultimate full pool at Lake Kaweah only. There is no standard maintenance water level.

Things to do at Lake Kaweah

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Wind Surfing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Lake Kaweah

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout
  • White Bass

Lake Kaweah Photo Gallery

  • Lake Kaweath

Lake Kaweah Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: US Army Corps of Engineers

Surface Area: 1,945 acres

Shoreline Length: 22 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 694 feet

Water Volume: 185,600 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1962

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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